How do you bring God's presence into your life? Is there a way to summon God to appear for you? For religious people, who want to understand what God wants from them and who yearn to bring themselves closer to God, these questions are an overwhelming imperative. We want to feel God with us. This week's Torah portion, according to some commentators, contains a clue about how to do that.
The portion begins:
It was on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron, his sons, and the elders of Israel. He said to Aaron, “Take a calf of the herd for a sin offering and an unblemished ram for a burnt offering and offer them before Adonai. Tell the Israelites, '…Today Adonai will appear to you.'" They brought the things Moses commanded to the front of the Tent of Meeting and the whole community came forward and stood before Adonai. Moses said, “This is the thing that Adonai commanded you to do so that Adonai's Glory will appear to you.” (Leviticus 9:1-6)
The great Chasidic commentator, Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (known as the "Kotzker Rebbe"), wonders what is "the thing" is that the Israelites must do to cause God's Glory to appear to them. The Kotzker argues that it cannot be just the sacrifices, because that would be redundant. The Israelites already had brought the required sacrifices. Why, asks the Kotzker Rebbe, does Moses again have to say, "This is the thing that Adonai commanded"? What is "the thing" that will cause God's presence to appear?
Don't pretend that you don't want to know, too. If there was something you could do that instantly would cause God's presence to be revealed before you, wouldn't you do it?
I don't think we're talking about a parlor trick here. I don't think the Kotzker Rebbe imagines that there is some abracadabra that will pull a divine revelation out of a hat. I think it actually is something much more simple than that. There are things we can do, simple things, that allow us to experience God in our daily lives. What are they for you?
For me, it can be as simple as holding the hand of my wife or my child and saying what is in my heart in that moment. It can be as simple as taking the time to listen to a friend or a congregant who is going through a difficult time and letting the words enter deeply into me.
Last Friday evening I had the pleasure of leading the congregation in a Shabbat service on the beach, and that reminded me of another way to make God's presence instantly available. Looking out over the ocean, watching the low angle of the sun's last beams brightening the clouds, made me feel that I could discover the revealed presence of God all around me.
It is not just that I have the fortune of living in a very beautiful place and that I had a wonderful group of people with whom I could share the moment (although those things don't hurt). It is also that the moment reminded me of how infrequently we give ourselves the luxury of just stopping to notice the beauty that surrounds us all the time. We can allow God's presence to be revealed to us whenever we want, just by taking the time to appreciate the wonders of the world around us, the miracle of our own bodies, the amazing good fortune we have just to be alive in a world filled with wonders.
This is the thing that God has commanded you to do so that God's Presence will appear to you.